I have never spent more than an hour our so in Atlanta (airport layovers). It’s a pretty cool place! Our regional leadership team meetings were held there last week. A few highlights…
Great food! We had Hawaiian, Indian, Mexican, Thai and Korean! (those are just the ones I can remember)
Really good to be with team-mates in person (two couldn’t be there due to Covid).
Nasal swabbing for rapid covid tests – an acquired sensation!
Time in scripture! Psalm 31/61 and 2 Cor 2.
Revisiting our strategic plan – The 2030 Calling
Having a meal in three different GFM staff member’s homes!
A very spacious Air B&B with plastic plants growing out of the walls!
My teammate Michael’s very cool Nike shoe collection (seriously a different pair every day).
I really appreciate the effort my regional leaders put forth to get our team together, to pray, and hear from God and each other. It does us so much good to revisit our goals and our leadership seeking God’s refreshing and resharpening. We typically spend four days together either in December or January. Covid has disrupted this greatly the past two years. So it was especially life-giving to be together. I always get to look at my work from a different angle when I’m with colleagues. Especially men and women who do my job better than me.
We would appreciate your prayers as we lead our staff teams into a new year. We took aim on several important items. Here are a few you can wrap your prayers around in 2022:
Planting witnessing communities on more corners of more campuses.
See more students and faculty respond to appropriate gospel invitations.
Increase staff recruitment w. emphasis on people of color and women.
Fully resource our work with adequate ministry partnership and financial support.
I’m eager to lean into our strategic plan in the coming days. I’m kind of itchy for results and momentum after being cooped up in this pandemic. Most immediately from the list above, I have two new staff that will be transitioning to my team in the weeks ahead. I‘ve written briefly about Sarah. In a future post I hope to introduce you to Chad who will be joining us in Ames, IA. Our team is planning an in-person retreat in St. Louis April 8-10th. That will be a high-water mark for us as we welcome Chad and Sarah. We also anticipate having our volunteer staff with us! That will be a team of eleven if we can pull it off! At some point our biggest threat to being together won’t be Covid, but ourselves! Feel free to start praying now!
Here’s my annual ministry partnership appeal. It’s helpful for me to know how you plan to connect with me in 2022. Most of you know the drill by now. If you need a few details on my budget check out my previous post. I would love to know if you’re able to help out next year like you did this past year. And I’d love to know if you’d be able to help with a small budget increase. This is also my chance to catch up with you if your address has changed or if you’ve had a major life event I should know about.
I’ll keep this link out here the entire month of December – my apologies if you get a little tired of seeing it. Each of the past three years I’ve tapped my base and gotten just a few more forms back each year. Let’s make this an outstanding year. I’d love to hear from everyone!
And that my friends is it. Have a terrific week! (probably the shortest blog post I’ve ever written)
A definite highlight of mine this fall has been welcoming a new Provisional Appointee to our Central Area Team. In case you forgot how I joined staff 4 years ago, this is the process. A person first applies for staff, is interviewed and an offer for contingent employment is given. Then the fun begins! Our new staff member is called a Provisional Appointee and begins her fund-raising. As the funding process gains momentum, a PA actually transitions to employment when funding hits a sustainable level. My own provisional appointment lasted from Feb 2017 till September of that year when I was able to begin part time.
Sarah Gregory is a Provisional Appointee in St. Louis, MO preparing to join GFM staff at Washington University. She is an InterVarsity alum from DePauw University in Indiana where she received her undergrad degree in Vocal Music in 2013. Sarah also completed her MA in Christian Education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and has worked on church staff teams in the rolls of worship director and director of discipleship. She has also freelance written and published in the area of family and children’s curriculum. Her and Kaleb met while at DePauw where he received his BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies. Law school took them to the St. Louis area – Kaleb finished his JD at Wash-U in 2020. Sarah and Kaleb are parents of Cecil and James and are expecting another child in April 2022.
I’ll be doing Ministry Partnership Development training and coaching with Sarah from now till she’s funded. She’ll eventually settle into a 20 hour per week part time role working with two other GFM teammates at Wash-U. Sarah and Kaleb are already involved with law students through a small group that meets in their home. One further creative wrinkle about Sarah’s on-ramp to staff is that Kaleb’s work will be taking him to Pittsburg next year (starting in Aug 2022). He will be a clerking for a federal judge for a year-long term. They then plan to return to the St. Louis area. Yes, we do have GFM work in Pittsburg! We’re going to have to loan Sarah to the Midwest Region for a year. But we’ll get her back!
Please be in prayer for Sarah as she works on funding in the coming months. As you can tell she’s got her hands full as a young mom. She’s been working on her first support presentations for individuals and groups. Over the holidays the Gregorys plan to be back in Sarah’s hometown – partly for time with family and partly to share her ministry with church connections there. In those first weeks of making calls, setting up appointments and making support presentations it can be a roller-coaster spiritually and emotionally. Pray for God to connect her with generous and helpful people.
Thanks so much for your prayers. In these last posts of the year, I want to make sure you can find the link to my support page (above). Several people have been sending in their year-end giving. Thank you so much for your financial partnership!
Each November we make sure you know how our funding is looking for the year. The first thing I’m always struck with when running the numbers for Fall support projections, is that there is a community of people out there who supply my entire ministry budget every year! That’s a lot of dollars when you add up my salary, my benefits, and all my ministry expenses. If you are an active donor to my work, you are part of a community of 91 people who give financially so I can do InterVarsity’s mission with faculty and graduate students. Thank you! I don’t deserve you, and I know it! I need all 91 of you (and then some) to make budget each year. I hope you know how blessed I am by you.
Each year my ministry account gets reset on July 1st. The clock starts over! You are in the green part of the donut most likely if you are a scheduled giver who contributes monthly. Greens are great because every month I get to see the results of your partnership with me. Thank you! Thank you for working me into your monthly giving budget. Most greens give not only to me, but several other causes as well. The consistency of your gifts helps me know I can keep doing this from year to year! Go Green!
If you are Gold…
Money savvy readers will realize that some Golds are just Greens as their gifts keep coming into the account. Fair enough. But you could also make the gold part of the donut by being an annual donor. Golds like to give in larger amounts – usually once a year. Many golds give around this time of the year because they plan their giving around the calendar year-end. If you’re gold, it’s helpful for you to get a reminder around now so you can transact your gift before calendar year end. Just hop on that link above and you’ll be taken to my donation page at InterVarsity. Thank you Gold!
Ok, about Blue…
Why does it seem like EVERY faith-ministry donut has a blue chunk? I long for the day when all I have is a Green-Gold donut to talk about in November. This isn’t that year. The blue chunk represents new support dollars I need to find before the end of my fiscal year come June 2022. Two things happened this past year in the blue zone. Covid wiped out about $8K from my support system. Some donors couldn’t or didn’t give due to their circumstances. Some of those donors have bounced back. Last year at this time, InterVarsity offered me a gift match to help recover those losses. The match filled in a deficit and helped me find 9 new donors! What looked like a very discouraging year, actually finished in the black in June.
This year I’ve got a blue chunk again but partly for a new reason. I think I have continued to lose some support since July 1st, but not at all like the previous months of the pandemic. I also have increased my budget to accommodate a much needed pay raise (my first since taking this job 4 years ago).
How can I help with your BLUE, Tim?
If you are a current donor and would like to increase your giving amount, that would be a terrific way to help me beat the blue! Consider a percentage bump of somewhere between 5 to 10 percent. If everyone in green/gold bumped their giving by even 5 percent, I’d almost be able to cover half of the gap.
If you haven’t been able to give to my budget, maybe you could start as a new donor in the coming calendar year. You can use that same link above to jump on my donation page and get started. I’ll also be working over the coming months to find new supporters. If you’re a Green/Gold and you know someone who might like to partner with InterVarsity by all means introduce me! I’d be happy to buy us all lunch and talk about it!
Thanks so much for your prayers and for your giving! I hope you’ve been able to enjoy a wonderful time with your family here at Thanksgiving. If we haven’t caught up in a while, drop me an email. Let me know how I can encourage you and pray for you!
Every discipline, every industry, every profession has its own version of BCP. Best Current Practice. Or simply, Best Practices. Theorists are the ones researching new technologies, studying stubborn problems, uncovering new ways to think about old challenges. Practitioners are the ones making it work in the field. Standard practice follows innovation and theoretical work. BCP is driven by pragmatics. Find what works. Find what works better than anything else. Then make everyone do it that way. Best practices are “successful, reliable and safe”. Until Jesus gets ahold of them, that is. Matthew 5, part 2 is what happens when Jesus’ definition of righteousness confronts Pharisaic BCP.
Matthew 5, Part 1 is Jesus reframing what it means to be the people of God living in the blessings of his kingdom. God favors a surprising sort of person. In part two, the surprises continue. What God expects of people in his kingdom is not just righteousness (right relationships, right actions and decisions). That was nothing new to Jesus’ audience. It was the DEGREE of righteousness that blew them away. Without a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees, Jesus says, you won’t even get in the front door! If there was ever a people group excessive about righteousness, it was famously the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus has reframed the conversation entirely away from industry best practice. And its troubling that Jesus did so, NOT by saying that the Pharisees had made righteousness too hard, but somehow too EASY! What does it mean to actually practice faith, obey God’s word and live out what God desires for his people? Jesus is reframing.
The chapters leading up to the Sermon on the Mount area a terrific set-up! Spoiler alerts everywhere! John the Baptist says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near… prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” It would be quite a let down for Jesus to show up and simply baptize the status quo! The good news Jesus announced about this kingdom came with demonstrations of power – his teaching, his healing and his forgiving of sin. The baptism of Jesus is meant in his own words as a “fulfillment of all righteousness.” What will this new righteousness look like?
Here’s how we’ll approach Part 2. Let’s look at what Jesus says first about righteousness and the law. Then we’ll consider seven test-case scenarios (if you will) of where true righteousness and BCP clash. You know the routine by now. Print a fresh manuscript, mark it up, then come back for a few discussion questions.
1- Read Matt 5: 17-20. Why does Jesus have to begin with the disclaimer found in v 17?
2- The Law and the Prophets was actually shorthand for the entire Old Testament. What are Jesus’ interests in the law? What is he trying to prevent? What is he trying to do?
3- Jesus implicates those with leadership and teaching responsibilities in relation to the law. Who is he talking about?
4- What does Jesus mean by asserting that entering the kingdom of heaven is a matter of righteousness? What would make ones righteousness greater than that of a Pharisee?
5- Read Tim Keller’s word study on Righteousness at the link below. He states that “righteousness is a life of right relationships… right with God and therefore committed to putting right all other relationships in life.” How could this definition help us understand why Jesus found pharisaic righteousness so deficient?
Jesus takes us further into his mind about true righteousness. The righteousness his audience knew was an accepted best-practice version he relentlessly confronts. “You have heard (BCP)… but I say to you (true kingdom righteousness).” Here’s an exercise you can do over the course of a week.
Get seven 3×5 notecards and title each of the seven case-studies (one per card). In my manuscript I’ve labeled them, Reconciliation, Lust, Divorce, Oaths, etc. You might title them differently.
Identify the Best Current Practice thinking that Jesus is confronting. What must have been the accepted understanding in order for Jesus to confront each one the way he is?
How does Jesus REFRAME the prevailing best current practice? What is new?
Lastly, what kind of life are kingdom people to have as their goal? What kind of world are we hungering and thirsting for?
At the end of the week, consider re-reading Matt 5 and looking again at your case studies. On the back of each card journal about the following questions:
Does true righteousness in this area (anger, reconciliation, lust, oaths, etc) matter today? Why? What is one specific way Jesus invites me to a higher, better, and more complete righteousness?
Let’s wrap up the fall travelogue with this post. My third trip was to the schools in Iowa where we have GFM staff. Iowa State in Ames was a shorter stop. Lunch at Aunt Maude’s with Tom and a faculty member friend of his. Tom and Don are collaborating on a Veritas Forum event with Dr. John Lennox they hope to bring to Ames next spring. More on Tom, and his friend, and on Veritas Forum in a coming post.
My other campus is the University of Iowa in Iowa City. I got to enjoy significant time with my staff colleague Kevin and his students out in front of The Java House. I think I’ve mentioned Java House and Heirloom Salad Company, in a previous post. We had a delightful lunch with Dylan and Soumya. Each week Kevin leads the Impact Group (bible study) and each month these two student leaders lead First Friday (large group meeting). You can get a feel for some of the group snooping InterVarsity GCF at U Iowa on Facebook. They’ve been featuring different students each month in a thing they call What’s Your Story?
“Lord, what big people are your saints! Or is it that we are most of us so small?
I wonder what are the links, the connections, between heroic faithfulness in crisis -paying the highest price and faithfulness in my domesticated latter-day discipleship? ‘As now, so then,’ Hudson Taylor used to say: What am I preparing now in strength of will, habits of obedience, willingness to suffer, if such a call came to me?
Such calls do come. They are there daily in the newspapers, sometimes not far from home. Courage, Lord, seems for them an aspect of faith. To those who trust you you give what is needed: with the danger will come the courage.
After all, Lord, you know all about it. You are no stranger to ‘the highest price’. May your suffering evoke my loving; may my loving inspire true faithfulness; not only for unknown tomorrows but for today. Amen.”
Have you ever wondered, “What am I reading when I read the Sermon on the Mount?” The Beatitudes for example- what are they? What is Jesus doing by giving this list of character attributes and the rewards that go with each? This is NOT what people in Jesus’ day would have thought the blessing and favor of God should look like. Jesus is re-framing. Consider another mountain-top prophet, of Old Testament days, at the end of his ministry expounding on what it meant to follow Yahweh and receive his blessings.
Here is Moses on Mount Nebo right before he is laid to rest by Yahweh and replaced by Joshua. The nation of Israel is gathered on the eve of entering the Promised Land. Moses is coaching the elders and families, reminding them of the most important things about a life of faithfulness under Yahweh’s provision and rule.
“If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock– the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you. The LORD will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the LORD your God and walk in obedience to him. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD…”
(Deuteronomy 28:1-10 NIV)
“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”
(Deuteronomy 30:15-20 NIV)
Did you see it? In Moses’ mind, what was absolutely critical for living in the shadow of Yahweh’s blessing? How do you STAY the unique people of God in context? In a word, OBEDIENCE. You stay close to God and his favor by hearing and obeying his word (the covenant/law). Again, Moses coaches, “This commandment is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. … the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” You will be makarios (blessed and happy) IF you remember and do God’s word. That’s what it means to love God. That is the path to the good life. So when Jesus fires up his sermon on his mount, he RE-frames what it means to be the people of God living under the blessings of his rule. Where Moses talked about the Promised Land, Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven. Moses gave them the law and told them to obey it, Jesus redefines the path of obedience. And he goes one further. He opens the Kingdom of Heaven to more than just the covenant people of old testament law.
Let’s look at Matthew 5 in two chunks. The first part reframes what it means to be the people of God (Beatitudes, Salt and Light vv 1-16). The second part reframes what true righteousness looks like (a separate study of Matt 5:17 – Matt 6:4). Here’s a manuscript and some inductive questions for part 1.
1. The words “blessed are” appear nine times. Makarios is the Greek word being translated blessed. Blessed. Fortunate. Happy. Privileged recipient of divine favor. What do you notice about the people Jesus says are makarios? Who are they?
2. Why are the makarios favored? Is it because of the attributes they are identified with (blessed are the pure in heart, for example, because they keep themselves that way).? Or is it in spite of these same attributes (even though they are poor in spirit, they are favored anyway because God wants them to be blessed)? Because of? In spite of? Explain.
3. Some attributes of the makarios seem positive – aspirational (the merciful, pure in heart, etc). Some definitely do not (mourning, persecution). What seems to be the basis of being blessed regardless?
4. Take each beatitude one at a time. What is the connection between the person being blessed/favored, and the specific benefit of that blessing. Why are the poor in spirit given the kingdom of heaven? How is it the pure in heart see God? Etc.
5. It is perfectly natural to assume that when Jesus says, “Blessed are, the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek” etc, that he is referring directly to the people he’s speaking to (his disciples plus loads and loads of people drawn to his teaching, healing and forgiving power). When we read the beatitudes today, should we assume the same thing? Are we to see ourselves in this list as a community of Christ’s followers? Are we to seek these attributes in the same way we cultivate the fruits of the Spirit (all of which reflect the character we should long for)? Why or why not?
6. If you have the time, skim Matthew chapters 3 and 4. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is going to mention the Kingdom of Heaven. A lot! How would Matthew’s readers understand what the kingdom of heaven is about?
7. Jesus elaborates most about persecution. What is unique about this particular attribute of the makarios?
8. Jesus identified his audience with the very characteristics their lives presented to him. He saw the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, pure in heart, the persecuted, etc. When we look at this list, how does it shape our understanding of life in God’s kingdom today? How might we need to reframe what it means to be blessed by God?
9. Theologian D. Martin Lloyd Jones has said of the beatitudes, “All Christians are meant to manifest all of these characteristics.” Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
10. Read vv 13-16. Two more attributes of kingdom people are described. What does each add to what it means to live under God’s favor and rule?
11. In the kingdom of heaven, God blesses his people. His people are in turn to bless and benefit the world through their impact. What threats today keep God’s people from being effective salt and light? What challenges in your context make this difficult?
12. “Moses told us our enemies would be defeated before us. You’re telling us we’re going to be persecuted for following you.”Jesus has reframed what it means to be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. If you are an Israelite wondering if he is the Messiah, how might your expectations be disappointed?
13. How does this view of the beatitudes reframe for you what being a Christian means? What is one way you feel you need to cultivate your faith differently? What is one thing about the community you belong to you wish were more salty and visible to the world?
A couple more snapshots from recent supervisory road-trips. From September 23rd through October 1st my circuit ride included Omaha to Lawrence to Manhattan to Beatrice and back to Omaha. Home for one night. Omaha, St. Louis for two nights, home for two nights. Ames and Iowa City overnight, home in time to ring-in PSL season. Felt like the old days to get in my own car, drive off into the sunset and put the miles on an expense report. IV would rather us not rack up all those miles on our own vehicles, but there has been quite a shortage of rental cars of late. My 17 year old Accord and I enjoyed our time together. 207K and still purring like a kitten! We’re a match made in heaven, well…
This seldom happens anymore. Two staff workers, get in a car and drive to campus! [I know, sounds like a line a stand-up comedian would say] George Stulac is our GFM staff member in St. Louis who leads several faculty bible studies in the St. Louis area. Three groups connected with Washington University, a group at Forest Park Community College and a group at Lindenwood. We were on our way to Lindenwood in St. Charles, MO.
George has been studying 1/2 Samuel in his faculty groups. He uses manuscripts. Comes to campus with photo-copies and colored markers. Faculty love George. One woman just blurted it out right after meeting me. “Your George’s supervisor? I hope you’re not here to take him away! He’s the best. We love this man and how he leads our group.” The Lindenwood group just decided this past fall to increase the length of time their group meets. “We want 90 minutes to be together each week. One hour isn’t enough!”
The next few years of ministry for George are critical. His work with Wash-U faculty is unique. The Carver Project is a new faculty ministry at Wash-U that George helped found. He continues in a Spiritual Formation role as the leader of their Faculty bible studies. He also leads the Carver Fellows in their annual retreat. As an alumnus of Wash-U and a former pastor for a number of years, George is not only the perfect GFM staff member, but George is also pretty hard to replace! He would love to have some overlap between his years at Wash-U and other staff who could eventually replace him!
Pray for George’s groups and for his leadership. Pray for God to raise up more staff for faculty ministry in the St. Louis area. Pray for the kingdom of God to come to many academic departments at Wash-U, St. Louis U, Lindenwood and Forest Park.
I say this partly so I can relive the fun of doing Silas and Haleigh’s wedding back in July. But there are two other weddings I ought to mention so I don’t flood this post with pictures of my kids (and OH, I am so tempted).
Here’s a wedding coming in the not too far off future for one of our staff at Washington University. Joshua Ho is a scientist who works for Bayer in St. Louis. As a student he was formerly a leader in GCF (Graduate Christian Fellowship) at Wash-U. He graduated a couple of years ago and got a local job specifically so he could help staff GFM. Josh plans to pass the patent bar exam and work in science patents longer term. But along the way he met Bethany, got engaged back in July, and will be getting married later this year.
I’m grateful to have Josh on our team. As a volunteer, his path to being on our team was very efficient! He and Linda Tuch are both volunteer staff who together work with graduate students at Wash-U. Linda and Josh make a terrific staff team because they both are insiders to the university – Josh, a former student and Linda, the spouse of a faculty member in the law school. They currently keep three things going in the student fellowship. They help students connect with each other for prayer. They facilitate bible study. And they help students plan and execute events (on-campus and off campus).
How are my newly-weds doing?
I think the coolest thing your kid can ever ask you to do is officiate his/her wedding. It dawned on me, in this my last-kid wedding, that one of the best things about being pastor-dad is the view I get. I get the best view in the whole place. Among so many fun moments in Haleigh and Silas’ wedding was this one.
I got to watch these two read their vows to each other. Way better than all my pastoral, dadly verbiage were their words of promise to each other. I think when you’re the one standing 18 inches away you can see it on their faces. They meant every syllable. And they were really good words they gave each other. I long for more marriages to get made just like this. I hope I get to keep doing this with other couples!
Haleigh and Silas came back from their honeymoon and started classes a week later! They live on campus in a third floor efficiency 2.2 miles from our home. They are settling into married life, studying, jobs, campus fellowship and church. Its so fun to get to see them, hear how things are going and process life with them. Silas is trying to figure out how God can use his degree to build up the church and do the mission of Jesus. He’s got so many gifts. And he’s now got a terrific partner to follow God with. Pray for them as they keep settling in at UNO. Pray for God to lead them to the people he wants them reach out to. Pray for Christian community for them. Pray for them to follow God’s leading and stretch their faith.
One last wedding I should mention.
On my way back from Kansas campus visits two weeks ago I stopped through Beatrice, NE. Maddie is one of my Occupational Therapy students at Creighton. Last year near the end of the semester I was on the phone with Maddie when she asked me, “Do you do weddings?” Maddie is from Beatrice.
Beatrice was on my way from Manhattan KS to Omaha. It was so fun to see her family’s farm and their horses. I got to meet her new colt, Frank (and his mom). I’ll be doing Maddie’s wedding as well as her premarital counseling with Cade. It was a really nice surprise to be asked to do a wedding. I had pretty much thought I’d be done with weddings when I left church staff. I don’t think that’s true. Not at all. So glad you thought of me, Maddie!
More on my St. Louis and Iowa campus visits in coming posts. Also, more RE- studies will be getting developed. The next four will be in the New Testament. Can’t wait to get them all out there!